Thursday, August 15, 2013

Les Miserables: Monseigneur Bienvenu

I have wanted to read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (in translation) for a long time.  Now I have finally got it on Kindle (on my phone and desktop) and will go down to Boarders to pick up a hard copy.  (Kindle on the phone is great for traveling, but I still prefer a hard copy at home.)  

I’m only a few chapters into Les Miserables, but I had to take a few moments to write about Monseigneur Bienvenu, the bishop of “a hard bishopric for a good bishop.”   I love this guy!  He is a man of simple humility born out of a life of suffering who suddenly finds himself in a place of great wealth and influence.  I am amazed at Hugo’s ability to describe so intimately such a good man in the Church.  The bishop is a man who, on his daily walks, “visits the poor when he has money, and the rich when he has none.”  He is a man who has so arranged his lifestyle so as to live on a very small percentage and give away the rest.  A cynic may think that such a thing is truly fiction, but I can vouchsafe that such humility exists not only in fiction--but it is good to read about it in fiction because it helps stir the imagination of those who long for humility, but are just beginning to learn what it looks like.  

Of course, Monseigneur Bienvenu (a nickname, because he welcomes everyone) is an exception: humility is a rare flower.  The church, just like any group of people--a medical association, for example--is made up of people who experience varying degrees of sickness.  Spiritual health among clergy is probably no rarer than physical health among doctors.  We all struggle with the effects of sin.  Nonetheless, the fact that healthy people exist inspires those who want to be well.  And I find the account of Monseigneur Bienvenu inspiring; fictional though it be, still it has the vibration of something true, something that could be true, that should be true.

One of the important steps in becoming like Christ, is to begin to recognize and honor Christlikeness in others.  Even though I cannot attain to much virtue, recognizing and appreciating virtue in others inspires my heart and makes a kind of path for me.  One of the reasons why I have enjoyed much of 19th century literature is that examples of virtue  are often evident.  So far, Les Miserables has not disappointed me.

“Let us never fear robbers or murderers.  Those are dangers from without, petty dangers.  Let us fear ourselves.  Prejudices are the real robbers; vices are the real murderers.  the great dangers lie within ourselves.  What matters is what threatens our head or our purse!  Let us think only of that which threatens our soul.”

1 comment:

Ostensive Lyme said...

This is lovely Father, thank you.
I too know such things exist outside of fiction. When visiting Russia with Dan and Dennis years ago I was bothered by the evident show of wealth many bishops evidenced. When we later were hiking Mt Athos we met up with fellow pilgrims from Russia- a father and son. With Dennis's translation I was able to ask this man about the "wealth and status" of Russian bishops that so troubled me.
The man told us that he was actually a sort of 'secretary' for a Monastery in Russia- and as such had close relations with the ruling bishop. He told us these simple stories about his bishop: the bishop was often given very expensive gifts by wealthy Russians. For example expensive cars, which he quietly sold and gave the money to the poor. He was even given a rather posh apartment in the city. Secretly he found a homeless family and put them up in this apartment, while he himself keeps a small cot in a closet in his bishops office.
The man who told us about this also told us that almost no one knows of this bishops secret poverty. The bishop is assumed to be returning to his posh apartment and only secretly does he sleep in the closet.
God grant us more bishops like this one!

-Mark Basil